Leaves rustle softly in the wind, while a young Acrocanthosaurus is snoring in the cool shade of a tree fern. Unnoticed by the sleeping predator the quiet is slowly disturbed. Dried leaves and small twigs crackle in the distance, the sound crawls nearer, slow, but steady. The thick undergrowth hides something massive approaching. Something unyielding scrapes along the trunks on the trees while the theropod lazily stirs and opens an eye. Suddenly the low fern leaves are cleaved by a triangular head, set between staggering rows of long, sharp spikes. All movement stops, eye meets eye. Not opponents yet, both animals measure each other, time crawl as a drop of pine resin. Then, as if nothing were in the way, the heavy Sauropelta carries forward, making a step directly towards the laying allosauroid. Startled the big theropod stands up as fast as its mass allows, awkwardly almost stumbling, while the single minded herbivore proceeds as if owning the place. The Acrocanthosaurus makes way just in time, narrowly avoiding the protruding spikes, and leaves its resting site to the tank like reptile, which now begins to munch on some horsetail sprouts….
There`s not a great many Sauropelta models out there and as with most Ankylosauria, the different sculpts vary greatly not only in their quality, but also in the interpretation of their features. Schleich´s version is barely more than a generic nodosaur, Kaiyodo´s is not bad, but not really a toy. In 2015 Safari delivered a model that was highly appreciated by the community. Now let´s see what PNSO brings to the plate five years later.
If the pictures did not tell you yet, the figure is jam-packed with details, in fact I could hardly imagine how a sculptor aiming for a mass produced PVC figure could achieve a more realistic detailing, dare say it rivals most resin attempts. Aside from this, the sculpt obviously follows an other reconstruction than Safari´s. PNSO kindly presents an own skeletal reconstruction, needless to say the figure follows this approach completely. So before I discuss what everyone wants to know, let´s get to the hard facts. The model is christened “Isaac” and comes with a neat short (and wise) story. The figure measures 18 cm in direct line and stands a little over 5 cm high at the hips. This renders the model in a roughly 1:30 scale. The base color on the upper side is a greyish brown with a tan dry brush, the spikes are tan with a bown spray at the base, while the sides of the head and the lower flanks are a light brick red and the underside a creamwhite.
Okay…. do you replace your Safari Sauropelta or do you not? The main characteristic of Ankylosauria genuses and species is obviously their armory, bones, plates, spikes, scutes, clubs, you name it. Now, with all this assive and heavy stuff, one could thinks that these animals made for great fossils all the way through their history. But that is obviosly not the case. There are examples for excellent preservation to a degree, that there almost can´t be any debate about some traits (Click!). But for most Ankylosauria there´s only fragmentary remains and a lot of discussion and interpretation of their appearance. So also for Sauropelta. Characteristics we take for granted are a triangular head, tapering towards the snout. The top of the head was heavily armored and scutes protruded from its postorbital and jugal bones. Two rows of spikes an along the sides of the neck, increasing in size towards the body. A sacral shield protected the hips and ossified tendons stabilzed the tail. Let us limit the facts here, to avoid goin´ too deep and not having the according literature at hand.
Surprisingly, Safari´s and PNSO´s figures are of the same size and basically also proportions (…remember, we had that same surprising case with Safari´s and Schleich´s Tyrannosaurus (2018)?!). Let´s begin with the head. Despite being of same width and length, PNSO transports the impression of armored massiveness better. The neck and shoulder is now were the real fun starts. A point goes to PNSO for fusing the bases of the pairs of spikes along each side of the neck, which the Safari lacks. The most obvious difference between both figure, the placement of the largest spikes must remain unsettled though. I could not find sure evidence for any of the positions. Personally I think the PNSO interpretation (not only theirs) is more reasonable, as these spikes probably developed for physical intraspecific competition rather than defence. If you like the “fend off predators”-theory more, you`d probably rather support the Safari. The shorter front legs and the sacral shield are support for the reconstruction of an arched back, resulting in the stooped appearance of the PNSO, resembling an armadillo somewhat, while the Safari has a quite straight back. The sculpt of the feet themselves varies greatly in both interpretations, but I think the PNSO transports the heavyness of the animal better. Now, the tail is again of great difference. While it seems there was only one row of triangular scutes along the sides of the tail, I reall like the looks of the double row as in the Safari and the Safari surely succeeds in giving the impression of a relatively stiff tail.
Eventually it is a hard decision. Safari dared an scelidosaurus-like approach with a fairly athletic sculpt, while PNSO went with the heavy tank variant. Though I like the PNSO more for its ultrarealistic sculpting details and overall look, I will keep both and probably display them together as an example on how different two interpretations of the same animal can be, despite sharing size, scale and proportions….. what do you think?